As any regular reader of Harvest Moon Music can tell you, I'm not a huge fan of raw, uncompromising black metal. Say what you will, but for black metal to catch my attention it has to have a noticeable amount of melody and - dare I say - atmosphere in the mix. The lo-fi production values and cacophonous wail of repetitive tremolo riffing associated with the more kvlt bands of the genre leave much to be desired, as I guess I'm simply not enough of a misanthrope to be impressed. That being said, I am a fan of the Irish and Scottish metal scenes as a whole so when the opportunity came my way to review Ashes, the latest release from Scotland's Necronoclast, I wasn't about to pass it up.
Necronoclast is actually a one-man entity, with Glaswegian Greg Edwards being that one man. As I am unfamiliar with Greg's previous three albums, I'm not qualified to say how Ashes compares to the Necronoclast catalog. From what I've been able to gather, however, this album marks a conscious attempt by Greg to expand the Necronoclast sound into a more atmospheric realm than his previous works. I'll stop right here and acknowledge that even the rawest, most frigid black metal could be considered to be "atmospheric". Atmosphere is subjective, and while to me it implies a mellow, enveloping sort of ambiance it could also mean one that is bleak and abrasive. Here at Harvest Moon Music, however, my definition reigns supreme. With that definition in hand, Ashes does indeed venture into atmospheric territory for much of its running time.
Black metal purists ought not to be put off by that fact, though. Just about every track on Ashes does contain, to one degree or another, the requisite blast beats and frantic tremolo riffing. "Serpents" and "Ravenous" are fairly typical black metal for their entirety, with only occasional shifts in pacing to set them apart from the norm. For me, Ashes really took root on the songs that Greg experimented with guitar harmonies and introduced a touch of melody to the blistering brutality. Such flourishes begin to appear on "Looking Glass", but the title track really showcases the direction that Greg wished to take with this album. The tempo is squarely in the realm of doom while Greg's shrieking vocals take on a less urgent, howling quality. The same qualities return on "Ghostways", though this track features rather prominent use of keyboards and acoustic guitar to generate atmosphere. The leads on this track are quite distinct and catchy, a trend continued on the remaining two tracks. In fact, the strong solos and doomy riffs of album closer "Kajicnike Saty" make it the standout track of the album.
Ashes is an album that has a little something for every black metal fan. While purists might be put off by elements of Greg's vision, I think he's taking Necronoclast in a positive direction that allows room for much more creative expression than raw black metal typically does. And that's what it's all about, right?
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